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SAUL RUBINEK: Unforgotten

April 25, 1993|SUSAN KING | Times Staff Writer

In 1986, Canadian actor Saul Rubinek ("Unforgiven," "Bonfire of the Vanities") accompanied his parents, Israel and Frania, back to their native Poland. Before World War II, the Jewish couple had operated a small store in the village of Pinczow. But in 1942 the Germans started rounding up and deporting Jews from the village and sending them to concentration camps. The Rubineks were saved from certain death by a local farm woman, Zofia Banya, who risked her life when she sheltered them from the Nazis.

"So Many Miracles," a documentary with re-created dramatic sequences, airing Sunday on KCET, chronicles Israel and Frania's reunion in Poland with Banya. Rubinek discussed the making of "So Many Miracles," which he also co-produced, with Times Staff Writer Susan King.

Were your parents open about talking about their experiences during the Holocaust?

They didn't like to talk about it, but they were open. I think one of the reasons was that they had survived the way they did. People who had gone to concentration camps had it much worse. My parents kept saying they were the lucky ones. People who went through camps didn't want to talk about it.

How did the film come about? Had your parents decided to go back to Poland when you came up with the idea of filming their return?

Well , I think it all happened at the same time. I had written a book about my parents that Penguin was publishing. I was about to hand in my first draft. My parents had been in constant touch with Zofia. She wrote and told them she wanted them to come over. She was getting old and wanted to see them. My parents were kind of nervous about going back because of the memories. It had been so many years. I said I would go with them and that made it easier.

I happened to be talking to one of my oldest friends, the guy who co-directed and shot it, Vic Sarin, who is one of Canada's best known cinematographers. He was working free-lance for the Canadian Broadcasting Co. I said, "Maybe we should shoot this? If you want to, we can do a co-production and pitch it to the CBC." I talked to my parents about it, and it made them very comfortable. The idea of going with a crew who had a specific job to do gave them a purpose without which it would have been very difficult for them.

What were your feelings about going to Poland?

I was very excited about going over there. None of these places meant anything except mythologically. I was very interested in taking what was family mythology and turning it into reality, which is part of the reason I had written the book. I realized I had something I wanted to share outside of my family. The same thing here. I felt I had something else to share because it was ultimately such a positive story.

I wasn't about to make a historical document. It was a very subjective history. I wasn't interested in talking about what all the Poles did to the Jews and the relationship between the Poles and the Jews, which is quite tragic. It wasn't my job, and neither am I qualified. I knew that there was something quite magical, miraculous, by the fact that my parents were saved by this woman. I had no idea why really. I knew there was something to be shared here that would work beyond the family. I knew I was right.

How did your parents' lives change since the visit?

They got in touch with people they hadn't seen in years. They had found a way to share what had gone on in their lives, which meant a great deal. There were the odd, curious things that happened. My father always wanted to be an actor and had, in fact, been in the Yiddish theater before and after the war in Poland. After all of these years and by a series of coincidences, Barry Levinson saw the documentary and proceeded to cast both my mother and my father in "Avalon." That was one of the miraculous things that happened. It changed my life to be able to go back and do something like this and to take stories I heard all of my life and turn them into reality.

What type of response has the film received?

Overwhelming response. It has always been overwhelming. There has been the odd response that has been a bit ambivalent or sometimes a Jewish response where people feel that I wasn't harsh enough about what the Poles did to the Jews. I have to respond to them that I am not a historian, that this is a family chronicle.

"So Many Miracles" airs Sunday at 11 p.m. on KCET.

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